If you are being judged on gender vs ability, stand up and question it: Unmisha Bhatt

Unmisha Bhatt

Unmisha Bhatt talks with Social Samosa about her journey in the A&M industry, the role and representation of women in ads, how the advertising industry needs to change and more.

The Indian Advertising industry has gone through many changes and evolved a lot. Despite this, the narrative of women in ads still seems to be regressive and still looked through a stereotypical gaze. Unmisha Bhatt, Co-Founder of Tonic Worldwide feels that the conversation surrounding women in advertising might have gone in the right direction for the metro cities, but across India, it still feels clouded. 

Unmisha, a professional in marketing communications with over 20 years of experience in creating brand strategy and communications, has previously worked on brands like Ponds, Bajaj Electrical, Tata Sky and more. 

In conversation with Social Samosa, Unmisha discusses how, despite the fact that today’s advertisements are growing more progressive, they still have a long way to go before having a significant impact.

Also Read: Women in Leadership: Agency Founders paving the way in advertising

Edited Excerpts: 

Can you tell me about your journey in the industry?

It’s been exhilarating and adventurous, to say the least… Been a full circle and one of my biggest learning has been that we are in the business of cracking people and not brands.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced in a predominantly male-dominated industry?

Over the years in some of the previous organisations, I have felt like my opinions have hit a wall. Like you aren’t heard but experiences like these have only made me stronger and more persistent to ensure I get myself heard and take decisions that I believe in

What is one sexist narrative that the Advertising industry desperately needs to change?

Overall, narratives that change the stereotypical portrayal of mothers and women in India, especially at the grassroots level in tier 2 /3 towns and rural areas

Inside the agency, one needs to stop distinguishing between women and men. We should focus on being gender-agnostic and more talent focused.

Do you think the portrayal of women in Ads has changed over the years? If yes, then how?

Yes, it has evolved over time. Earlier it was very regressive and now it’s more progressive. Having said that, earlier the target audiences in briefs were women as housewives and now its women as homemakers. It reflects the change in the mindset of showcasing women that juggle between work and home however it still doesn’t free her from the domestic responsibilities. Very rarely ..0.00001% (fraction) of ads might show men as homemakers and that is because ads and movies are a reflection of society and real life. Showing a man surprising his family by having cooked or baked for an occasion, reflects how men doing household chores is an occasional rare reality.

Metros might still see better situations however it’s the extreme contrast in Bharat. 

A woman who had a positive impact on your life/career and why?

There are many actually. My mother was an ambitious career-oriented woman back in the ’80s. She was bold and independent and had her beauty salon back then when this was considered a taboo. She has raised me and the other 2 sisters as independent, strong and bold women. She was also a food blogger in the ’90s (back then the concept of bloggers and influencers didn’t even exist)…she’s been an inspiration, guiding force, pillar of support and the strongest woman in our lives and dad has supported her thinking and been the best father and supportive man in all our lives. Besides mom, my sister who was also the financial backbone at a very young age and ambitious has been an idol. She has been super inspiring and wanting to be like her pushes me to be who I am today.  

Beena Koshy, my ex-boss from Ogilvy and Bajaj electricals, currently heading Rediffusion and is the warmest woman as well as the strongest leader who taught me how to be bold yet humble. 

All in all, key learning from my experience with these wonderful women who have shaped me and my advice to women around me :

If you are being judged on gender vs ability, stand up and question it. Be brave. Refuse to go quietly into the night without a fight. In your own way, ask the questions that will make them think twice about taking the decision and repeating it.

What is the gender ratio at your agency? Do you have any policies in place to build a safe and flexible workplace for women?

We have over 60% of women in the organisation, and 3 out of 4 at the top are women leaders. Our Global Strategy Director Anjali Malthankar, Our Creative Director, Josna Joseph, and our Strategy Director, Ankita Chauhan are a true reflection of our culture, which is gender agnostic and talent focused and even our HR team comprises 75% women. And this isn’t by the design of gender, it’s by the design of talent :)

In terms of policies, we have an open environment and women, as well as men, are encouraged to share challenges or problems if any. The HR team is also very vigilant on safety and follows POSH (prevention of sexual harassment) guidelines, and all Tonickers, women or otherwise can reach out to the internal complaints committee that has been formed we also have a group email ID exclusively comprising of just our internal committee members for people who are more comfortable writing the matter out instead of verbally expressing any unsafe situations that may have occurred.

What is your vision for the agency moving forward?

The vision is to continue building Tonic as an organisation where talent thrives, learns and feels happy and safe to grow with the organisation. We don’t want to build biases for either gender and alienate either. We are an inclusive happy environment and would like to continue building it in that direction.

How are you using your organization as a platform to empower women?

Our two-step policy is very simple and effective :

Each one mentor one – A personalised mentorship approach towards young executives to help them move to the next level is crucial for professional growth.  

Shine a spotlight on the women in the team as much as you would do for the other genders. – Yes, we love it and want it. Give credit where it is due irrespective of gender.  

Both these when combined together not only give rise to strong role models for other women and men to aspire to but also creates space for more women to enter the field.

How can we get more women into leadership positions?

At Tonic we have focused solely on talent promotion and have gotten some of the best minds to be a part of the team without considering gender … and a lot of them are women! This is what happens when you take ‘ gender’ out of the equation. But I do understand that this is not the case everywhere. Here is where I would like to advocate for gender equity which recognises the fact that giving the same opportunities to everyone might not work. We have to recognise that everyone deals with different challenges and is at the start line with different challenges and talent levels. Providing them with the right mix of talent and opportunities that are relevant to them will make a difference. That is how we get more women into the workforce and reward them for their talent. Once you give them that and ensure they are all on the same playing field. Take gender out of the equation and focus on promoting talent.  

How can the advertising industry do better?

Advertising is a strong medium of influence. Start by educating yourself, your teams and your client on gender equality, equity and representation along with what it means to have a progressive mindset.